The Austin American-Statesman ran an excellent article on our rising local property tax burden. There is no doubt that growth is not paying for itself. Adding to this increased cost is a shifting of the burden away from a diversified tax system to the narrower-based, more regressive local property tax system. Superficially speaking, Texans’ tax burden is comparatively light – we rate 45th in the nation for average combined state and local tax burden. But, increasingly reliant as we are on property taxes, this statistic indicates that the half of the population with above average income is paying less than almost anyone in the US, while the half of the population with below average income is getting hosed.
Since Texas has no state income tax, the State relies on sales tax and a smattering of other consumption taxes (gas, motor vehicle, franchise, alcohol, tobacco) that have remained static or dysfunctional for years. The State’s preference for low and regressive taxes has shifted and concentrated the cost of governing to the local level. This shift hits urban areas and urban working-class Texans hardest.
Here are a few examples of what Travis County government now does for the State with local property taxes: expanding and maintaining state roads, incarcerating and rehabilitating state inmates (adult and juvenile), treating mental health patients in state hospitals and enforcing state environmental laws. This list is not comprehensive and does not include any of the state burdens being picked up by other local taxing entities (e.g. AISD’s transfer of local property taxes to the State, the City of Austin’s investment in improvements to IH-35 and MoPac, CommUnityCare providing services that would be covered with federal dollars if the State hadn’t refused to match them).
The State will continue shifting responsibilities and costs for governing to the local level. The cost of the local response (to poverty, ignorance, illness, natural disaster, public infrastructure) will continue to fall heaviest on lower income residents. For my part as a Travis County Commissioner I promise to keep the regressive property taxes on which the County relies as low and fairly distributed as possible while maintaining necessary services to our rapidly urbanizing and expanding population. I will:
- work with other taxing entities to achieve maximum efficiency and minimum overlap;
- encourage other eligible taxing entities to adopt the maximum homestead tax exemption as Travis County has done;
- increase the over 65 and/or disabled tax exemption; and
- rein in preferential tax treatment of individuals and entities that are not among those most in need of tax relief
I ask you to demand effective and efficient services to those of us in most need and a fair distribution of the cost to those of us most able to pay.